While doing on-campus retention studies and customer service audits plus contacting students who had left a college or university, NRaisman &
Associates interviewed 864 students who had left a college. The students and contact information came from some of our client schools. We interviewed students who had left a college or university at least six months prior to the interview.
The passage of six months to a year as well as our non-affiliation with any particular college or university provided the students the distance and anonymity for more open discussion on actual attrition causes. The students were randomly selected. They were often at their new college, one where we had been hired to perform an audit or present training.
What we discovered is not what former students might tell a school official. Students leaving a school will generally play to the interviewer during their meetings. Students will often tell the interviewer one or another vague reason for leaving the college. The most common reason students give a school official falls under the category of a personal issue or problem which is actually not the real reason or excuse the student has for leaving the school. Research has found that students correctly assume that the interviewer will either not dig into their personal lives or will buy the vague soap opera they spin. We do love a good story, even if it may not be true or the real reason the student is leaving.
Keep in mind that the student is trying to leave the school and she realizes that the job of the exit interviewer is not just to learn why the student is leaving but to try and change her mind about leaving.
Students know that the interviewer wants to discover why the student wants to leave and then find some way to either fix the problem or talk the student into staying. But that is in direct opposition to the student‘s goal of “getting the-----out of here”. So when the enrollment counselor asks why she wants to leave, the student goes with the easiest escape route. “I‘m leaving for personal reasons that I‘d rather not go into.”
Students know they if they claim personal reasons for having to leave college, most officials are happy to accept that for two main reasons. First, most institutions accept that a personal reason is a valid basis to leave school. There is a box on some form that can be checked for accounting purposes. Second, if students leave for personal reasons, neither the college nor the individual are really accountable for some failure in the department, school or our so-called systems. After all, we can't be held responsible for their personal problems, can we? A student leaving for as personal reason is not dropping due to any fault of the school after all. Neither the college nor the enrollment management team has to take a negative check against its reputation if a student has to leave due to some personal issue.
The most significant reason why students left a school was again that they felt the school did not care about them. They felt often that the college worked hard to recruit and enroll them but once they were there the college just assumed they would stay and did little to show that it cared about them being there. A full 26% percent felt this way.
Poor service accounted for 23% of the reasons why students left. This is of course an allied response to the college does not care about me since the service was obtained, or not, by students who then interpreted the poor service often as the college does not care about me. These two categories together account for 50% of responses.
The percentages of the reasons why students left are as follows:
College Doesn’t Care 26%
Poor Service 24%
Not Worth It 18%
Academic Quality 2%
(percentages are rounded to closest whole number)
That would mean that the total for customer service related reasons for leaving a school (College Doesn’t Care 26%; Poor Service 24%; Not worth it 18%; and scheduling 13%) are equal to 81% of the total attrition.
There was one area that jumped enough since the last study to require additional discussion. That is the category of scheduling. It increased by 3% from the last study and has been increasing each time we conducted the study into why students left a college.
As schools are trying to cut their costs they are cutting sections. The schools usually decide to cut a section they feel is not fully enough enrolled to warrant offering it. This is not always true by the way as discussed in The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education. That discussion is on how to figure the actual costs of cancelling a class. But colleges usually have some go-no go number like ten students in a section for it to be allowed to be offered. What the schools do is to create some horrid customer service by cancelling the class in the last week or two. When a class is cancelled in the last weeks just before a start of the semester for example that totally disrupts the student’s life. She has planned her whole life around the schedule she thought he had. She has made arrangement for her hours at work not to conflict with her classes. If a mother, has set up babysitting arrangements around the class schedule. Then in the last moment the college cancels the class and her life is turned upside down when she can’t get another class at the same time as the cancelled on. Moreover, if she can’t get another class that fits her schedule and major she may be a section short on being a full time student and that will affect financial aid. She might not be able to afford to go to school as a result of the cancelled class.
Canceling sections can be simply horrible customer service that can tip a student into giving up or at least stopping put maybe not to ever return to the school.
If this article made sense you'll want to get the new book From A to G (Admissions to Graduation): Achieving Growth through Academic
Customer Service by Dr. Neal Raisman
Customer Service by Dr. Neal Raisman